Friday, 15 April 2011

A Readalong, some Censorship and 'Lady Chatterley's Lover' by D.H.Lawrence

This weekend, the participants in in A Literary Odyssey's readalong of this novel will be posting their thoughts on the first half (I think...)

I have always been intrigued by this book. I think any book that is so widely censored as this one holds a certain mystique. It was originally published in 1928...in Italy. Lawrence's tale was so "scandalous" that it wasn't published in the UK until 1960. The bold publishers were met with prosecution under the Obscene Publications Act 1959 (an Act that, rather ashamedly, is still in force in the UK today...). Fortunately, the Judge reached a 'not guilty' verdict on the basis of the book's recognised literary merit (and a couple of helpful testimonies from other "respected" authors - E.M.Forster and Helen Gardner) and the book managed to remain in circulation.

It unfortunately met similar treatment in a number of other countries, meaning that when Lawrence died in 1930 he had no idea of the controversy his words would cause or the notoriety that would result.

So, why was it so controversial? Not only does Lawrence deal with - *cue whisper* - sex but he dared to drop the f-bomb and the dreaded "c-word". It probably didn't help that he blurred the boundaries of class and social position too.

But why should you read it?

When I first loaded this book on a sunny afternoon in my garden with my eReader, I was intrigued. 50 pages in and I wasn't sure what I thought. I couldn't find a great deal in the characters that I wanted to read about and I struggled with Lawrence's style. Rather than a story, I felt like I was tackling an academic essay on sex with a particular focus on whether women and men regard sex differently and, if so, why? Not that it wasn't without it's entertainments...I like this particular quote by a "gentleman":
"We're free to talk to anybody; so why shouldn't we be free to make love to any woman who inclines us that way?...I can't see I do a woman any more harm by sleeping with her than I do by dancing with her...or even talking to her about the weather"
Ah, the romance...warms your heart, doesn't it? The first 50 or so pages are jam-packed with such gems. Ladies, guard your chastity and beware men wanting to talk about the weather, apparently...

We are introduced very early on to the two main characters: Connie and Clifford Chatterley. Connie is a vibrant and intellectual young woman brought up if not to challenge men, certainly to be opinionated and passionate. Clifford is a damaged man in many ways - after returning from the First World War "more or less in bits", Clifford is paralysed from the waist down and labouring under the weight of a persistent fear.

As I am now beginning to learn, at the halfway point, this book's characters are complex and fascinating. At first, Connie appeared to me to be shallow and almost unsupportive. Once you 'meet' her sister, however, you see how she is being broken by the weight of her position. Which is where the controversy comes in. Connie feels isolated by her life and stifled. The longer she lives without a physical relationship, the greyer she becomes. Fidelity, if you will, is killing her. The progression from liveliness to emptiness is strangely moving and her approach to love and life is unique, particularly for the time in which she is portrayed. In short, Connie is one fascinating woman to read about!

The reason I love this book, and the same reason for which it was supressed for so many years, is its tackling of one simple human issue: yes, you guessed it - sex. How important is it to our "connexion" (as Lawrence calls it) with our romantic partners? Can we love and be close without it? Can sex be separated from love or are they variations on a theme? Somehow without approaching the essay tone of the first part of the book.

And then there's the Lover. But that's a discussion for another time - there's far too much to say when I've already gone on for long enough, I think! So far, this is certainly one to try out! The ideas on social class are just starting to develop and the dynamic between Connie and Clifford shifting dramatically so I have high hopes for the second half.

As you have no doubt noticed, I am only halfway through this book and could talk about it all day! In fact, if you see this, I'm amazed you've read this far...and grateful, of course. Our thoughts on the second half of the book will be posted in exactly a fortnight's time on the 29th April 2011.